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Critical matchups that will decide biggest games in Week 13 in college football

November 24,2017 22:20

In most games involving the Crimson Tide it is the opposition's offensive line that is put on notice to produce some semblance of a running game. But with significant injuries along the Alabama defensive front and the recent success of the Tigers ...


Erick Smith, USA TODAY Sports Published 1:48 p.m. ET Nov. 24, 2017 | Updated 4:33 p.m. ET Nov. 24, 2017

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USA TODAY Sports' George Schroeder, Paul Myerberg and FOX Sports host Joel Klatt preview the three biggest games this weekend. USA TODAY Sports

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The final weeks of the regular season brings high drama as teams are fighting for position in the College Football Playoff rankings and conference championships.
When two teams are evenly matched, there's a small margin for error between winning and losing. The implications can be significant, however. 
Here's a look at five of this week's biggest showdowns and what will be the decisive factor in determining a winner (all times Eastern):
Alabama front seven vs. Auburn offensive line
TIME/TV: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., CBS
In most games involving the Crimson Tide it is the opposition's offensive line that is put on notice to produce some semblance of a running game. But with significant injuries along the Alabama defensive front and the recent success of the Tigers running attack, the tables have been turned. The Tide, who gave up 172 rushing yards on the road to Mississippi State two weeks ago, need to find the right formula to slow down Kerryon Johnson from establishing a consistent running threat. Johnson has run for at least 116 yards and five yards per carry in six of his last seven games. Just two weeks ago he had 167 yards against the Georgia defense. That kind of production will take tremendous pressure off Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham in the passing game. But if Alabama can be its dominant self on the line of scrimmage, it can revert to winning strategy of wearing out the opponent with its running game even in a hostile environment.
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Notre Dame wide receivers vs. Stanford secondary
TIME/TV: Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
Brandon Wimbush needs help. The Irish quarterback is still an unfinished product throwing the ball. The deficiency is highlighted when defenses can slow down the Notre Dame running game and force the the junior to make plays with his arm. Miami (Fla.) showed the blueprint to the Cardinal two weeks ago as Wimbush and Josh Adams were stuffed running the ball and the former was rattled into mistakes on the road. What the Irish need is for their receivers get open in space and create big plays. Equanimeous St. Brown and Chase Claypool are more than capable of being difference-makers, especially against a Stanford secondary is susceptible to get beat. If Wimbush establishes his ability to throw, it will stretch out the Cardinals defense and create spaces for Notre Dame running game to take control. 
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Washington State QB Luke Falk vs. Washington QB Jake Browning
TIME/TV: Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox
The Apple Cup will be a game for the quarterbacks. Both Falk and Browning are the catalysts of their offenses and need to have standout games to lead their respective teams to victory. Falk is almost exclusively going to have to do it with his arm as the Cougars and next to last in rushing yards, and the Huskies are one of the top run defenses in the country. However, Washington's weakness is in pass defense, which gives Falk and his talented group of receivers an opportunity to move the ball. Browning will be facing one of the better pass defenses in the country as Washington State allows just 174.2 yards in the air. He does have a stronger running game than Falk, however the Cougars also are stout against the run as proven by holding Bryce Love to just 69 yards. In an intense rivalry game, it may come down to which quarterback can avoid momentum-changing mistakes as much as big passing plays.
Michigan offensive line vs. Ohio State defensive line
TIME/TV: Saturday, noon, Fox
The Wolverines tried to run the ball at Wisconsin. It didn't work. They amassed just 58 yards on 37 attempts. Brandon Peters was able to make a few critical throws, but they amounted to just 10 points before he left with an injury. His status is uncertain for Saturday. John O'Korn does not inspire confidence if Peters is out. So the onus is on the Michigan offensive line to feed off the home crowd and move the talented Ohio State front if the offense is going to mount any sustained drives. The problem is the Buckeyes have one of the more talented defensive lines in the country. They shut down the run game of Michigan State and Penn State and will be playing with the carrot of a possible College Football Playoff berth. A glimmer of hope for the Wolverines. The last time Ohio State was on the road it lost by 31 points against an Iowa offense that similarly struggled against Wisconsin.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney vs. his players
TIME/TV: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
The rivalry between the Tigers and South Carolina is among the most heated in college football, even if it doesn't register in other parts of the country. Clemson has to stay focused on its task of qualifying for the College Football Playoff in a game that is sure to be emotional and at the least a little bit chippy. Swinney must reinforce the message to his team to avoid extracurricular battles with the Gamecocks that can result in penalties or possible ejections that can carry over to next week's ACC title game. The Tigers can win this game relatively easy if they just grind out plays on offense and let their defense be its normally stingy self. Getting mired an emotional battle with a rival on the road is a recipe for a long night that could see its season goals go up in smoke.
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